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MECRA REPORT: Filmmaker Seeks to Highlight Kurdish Plight through Indie Movies in America

Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis

Iranian-Kurdish movie director Shepol Abbasi has put the final touches on his new movie “Performance of the Dead,” which will be released on a later date this year.

The 70-minute movie features a group of immigrants in the United States to which they have come from different countries. The premise of the movie is to capture a side of immigrant life in America.

Performance of the Dead’s opening scene is an overhead shot of a smoking woman lying on bed in a dark garage converted into a room. The visibly apprehensive woman is pondering over a way to rescue her husband from the hands of a mafia ring leader. Her move towards that goal leads to subsequent events that have unattended consequences.

About the movie, Abbasi says his idea was to show how immigrant families from war-torn countries are psychologically affected by events in their home countries.

“Whether we live there or not, we still get affected by what’s happening in the Middle East,” he said. “The second and third generations will also carry the memories of wars and conflicts, even though it’s their forefathers were the ones who actually experienced bitterness back home.”

Abbasi added that when he wrote the script of Performance of the Dead, he didn’t have a particular message in mind.

“I just put together my reflections and worldviews. Some people say that cinema is the art of lying; the ability to deceive the viewer. But for me cinema is only a reflection of reality. Simply put, I show things as they are. That’s why most of my works may come across as raw and dark,” he told MECRA. For me cinema is only a reflection of reality. Simply put, I show things as they are.

Born in 1981 in the Kurdish city of Mahabad in Iran, Abbasi went to study Computer Software Engineering at the University of Hamedan. After graduation, however, he took several classes in cinematography.

“The Iranian regime has always been tough on musicians, writers and filmmakers. But it is particularly tough on Kurds who are active in these fields. When I was living in Iran, I didn’t seek permission from the Ministry of Guidance and Culture (Ershad), because I knew they wouldn’t allow me to work as I pleased. So I made my movies without their approval, which was very risky,” Abbasi explained.

He went on to say that “all my movies have Kurdish themes. That’s why I couldn’t work freely in Iran. I once made a documentary film about the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. I consequently faced a lot of pressure from the regime. So began thinking about leaving the country. Being creative in Iran is a threat to the Mullah regime.”

In 2007 Abbasi moved to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to work on a few documentaries before returning to Iran again. But fleeing growing persecution from Iranian authorities, he left the country permanently in 2009.

He settled in the U.S. in 2011 after living in Turkey as a U.N.-sponsored asylum seeker for two years.

His move to America has opened more doors for him to develop his passion in filmmaking and directing. He has already made four documentaries and two feature movies.

One of his works in 2015 took him to Syria and Iraq to document the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group. He particularly focused on the role of Kurdish fighters in that war in both countries.

“But what I want to tell the Western audience in particular is that Kurds aren’t only great fighters,” Abbasi said. “I want to tell them that Kurds also celebrate life through a rich culture that embraces music and arts.”

Abbasi, however, admits that he has difficulty promoting his works in the U.S. as he produces them independently.

“In a country where the major film studio system is dominant, it is really hard for moviemakers like me to rise to prominence in the U.S. through low-budget indie movies,” he said.

Performance of the Dead has been submitted to Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. Abbasi hopes that through such ceremonies his works will gain more international recognition.

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